A new generation of designers is reinventing the way we make and market fashion, with sustainability front and centre. The Redress Alumni are leading the change, writes Clare Press.
Ask Katie Jones why sustainability is important to her, and she says, “Why would it not be?” The London-based knitwear designer was a Redress Design Award semi-finalist in 2014/15, just a year into her business. “I think sustainability should be common sense,” she says. “Once you learn about it, if you’re not actively trying to help, then you are part of the problem. As a designer, it’s your job to try to make things better.”
Jones has applied that thinking to her own evolution. She began by handknitting and crocheting her first collection out of old Aran sweaters, which she’d bought from charity shops and unravelled. She soon started using waste and surplus yarns, and wholesaling her exuberant pieces. “I like colour a lot; there is far too much grey in the world.”
She says that sustainability must go beyond materials and products. “As a young designer, you have to work out how your business model can be sustainable, and how you can grow in a way that works for you. Because I wanted to be in control of my production and for it to be very transparent, everything was hand-made in the UK, which meant that my prices were very expensive. I began to feel hypocritical: I was doing all this public speaking about sustainability, but my own solution was a £1,000 jumper, which is just ridiculous for the average consumer.” By far the biggest cost was the make; complex patterns take many hours to produce. “I thought, what if I took that element out of it?”
At the start of this year, Jones transitioned from a wholesale to a pattern-making model. “I now sell my designs as patterns for people to make themselves. It becomes much more affordable, but it also provides an opportunity for a deeper connection between the wearer and the garment. If you’ve made something yourself, then you know how much work goes into it. It makes you appreciate it more.”
As the idea of the circular economy takes broader hold, brands and designers are increasingly looking at ways to design out wasteful production and consumption, rethink business models, and swap unsustainable materials for eco alternatives.
While Jones is designing system change, 2014/15’s first prize winner Kévin Germanier is focused on materials. He developed his distinctive rainbow-hued embellishments while working in Hong Kong and stumbling across a stash of discoloured beads that were destined for landfill. He bought the lot for $10 and took 93 kilos of them back to London with him. A former junior designer at Louis Vuitton, Germanier now counts Björk among his fans but while his success looks effortless, it wasn’t always so. When he first moved to London to study at Central Saint Martins, he had no money for fabrics and had to use his bedsheets for toiles. Constraints, he says, lead to better design, while sustainability is all about giving back: “It feels amazing to be able to create clothes and at the same time to protect the planet. As a young and passionate designer, it is very important for me to feel useful.”
“It makes no sense to create something beautiful while polluting the environment,” says Angus Tsui, who won the People’s Award in the 2012 cycle. He has since developed a loyal following for his sophisticated, print-driven collections based on eco-friendly materials (think recycled polyester, organic fibres, antique fabrics) and sustainable design techniques (zero-waste patterns, up-cycling, reconstruction). “It’s an obligation for us designers, who have innovative minds and the medium to communicate with different parties, to advance the whole apparel industry into a greener business.”
Tsui’s latest collection, BEEvolution, was inspired by the plight of the bees. “Populations of wild bees have declined significantly in the past decade, which is a serious issue of all mankind and even the Earth,” says Tsui. “We are about so much more than just designing clothes, we use our creativity and imagination to advocate for sustainability in our community and industry for a better future.” He believes Redress has done significant work in this area, catalysing change in the region. The next generation will take sustainability as a given.
“By supporting emerging sustainable designers through the years Redress has really changed the game,” says Tsui. “If designers, manufacturers, distributors and - most importantly - the consumers, all come together, I’m convinced that we can create something bigger, and have a far greater impact, a fashion revolution.”
Clare Press is the Sustainability Editor-at-large at Vogue Australia, and is International Judge of the Redress Design Award 2018
This article originally appeared in the Redress Design Award 2018 Magazine.